Back to the future

Technology is a maze, but we just keep breezing through it!

DO YOU recall the early days of the mobile phone in Nigeria, when the funkiest phones came without camera or colour screen, when ‘Network’ was as unpredictable as NEPA; and an intercepted ‘flash’ meant the painful loss of fifty naira? Or (and this is for guys) when calling a girl meant having to call her mummy’s phone?

I got my first mobile phone in 2002; shortly after my first email address. Today however, less than a decade later, I can hardly remember what life was like without mobile phones and internet access. Life for many of us is now a blissful stroll through virtual catacombs strewn with tweets and pokes and unanswered emails and numb thumbs. The amazing leaps in technology over the last decade have turned us into a generation accustomed to ‘instant-ness’. Clearly we are no longer as unnerved by change as our parents were. Today we acquire our mobile phones and iPods and iPads (and sometimes even our boyfriends and girlfriends) knowing that in a few months they will be obsolete.

Fortune-telling has also suddenly become very cool. Well, maybe fortune-telling is not quite the right word, evoking as it does a wizened old person staring into a glass ball (Europe) or a bowl of water (Africa). Perhaps I should simply go for the unambiguous phrase: “predicting the future.”

It’s the latest hot thing: open any cutting edge magazine or turn on the TV, everyone’s trying to sell a picture of the world as we will soon come to know it. (e.g. there are those who already think they can see “the new Facebook” – the start-up that will do to Facebook what Facebook did to MySpace). It is now the consensus that there is no Present anymore; only a hazy past and a whirring future. The Future is the New Present. #ConfessionTime: The bug of the New New Thing has bitten me too, and I recently acquired a nice plot of land in The Future.

And here’s the first thing I saw when I toured that property: The Tragic Death and Interment of the ‘User Manual’. Let me explain. When I was growing up, a User Manual was second in importance only to the Holy Bible. It contained Commandments that were to be read and painstakingly followed to the letter. Daddies had their jobs cut out for them. Before any newly purchased electronic item – video cassette recorder (does anyone still remember what that is?) or 14-inch TV set or Xmas tree – could be put into operation, daddies had to study them like exam question papers, and understand every why and how and what-not, while the children of the house milled around impatiently.

Today, those kids are grown-up, and have lost that reverence that their fathers had for the Almighty Manual. Perhaps it is because of our diminished attention spans, in this age of excess information and diminished time – I’m convinced that there are no longer up to 24 hours in a day – who has time to read manuals anymore?

When it comes to operating new equipment we seem to mostly trust our instincts these days? The thought of a 20-something-year-old poring over a user manual now seems far-fetched. Think back to the time you acquired your blackberry – can you remember ‘seeing’ an accompanying booklet? Seems like if we can find our way around the Internet, the most important and most complicated invention of this Age, without a Manual; then surely nothing else will need a guidebook?

‘If it can’t be learnt by trial-and-error then it isn’t worth knowing’ seems to be the Generation Y motto. And if we run into any problem along the line, we can always call a friend, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire style. Or, better still put up an appropriate status update on our Facebook (make that Twitter!) page: ‘Need help with the “Mode” button of his Nikon D40. Answers anyone?’

The earlier gadget manufacturers wised up to the obsolescence of the conventional user-manual, and stopped printing them, the better. That effort would go a long way if applied instead to product improvement. Not to talk of how many trees we would end up saving…

Tolu Ogunlesi Y!

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